St. Georges Month!

Just yesterday I visited a field in which I had found and collected St. Georges mushrooms way back at the beginning of April. To my surprise and delight I discovered that a half dozen rings still included some viable mushrooms. Although most of the fungi was well past its best, like the last picture here, there where still enough good ones to take home for tea for the family.

The received wisdom is that mushrooms appear ‘over night’ and are gone just as quickly. True it depends on the species of fungi and the environmental conditions – Shaggy Inkcaps, for instance, on a wet day can be spotted in the morning and a pool of ink by lunchtime. Others have more staying power. But even I was surprised that these St. Georges where still going strong a good five weeks after I had first spotted them.

Edible Landscape relaunches in Stroud

After a year of absence in which my ‘turf’ moved from Chalford to Stroud/Slad valley I have been persuaded to reinstate my Edible Landscape series of walks in and around my new patch.

We will be starting on Sunday 27th April with Exotics and Natives, an Urban forage in and around the lesser-known footpaths and back lanes of Stroud.
As well as seeking out the wild in the domesticated, we will be discovering some of the overlooked edibles of our local parks and gardens.

Time:, starting at 10.30 am .Walks last approx. 2 hours
Meeting at: Park Gardens, bottom of Slad road
Cost: see note below

To book on line click here

Notes on a new pricing system

From March 2011 to December 2012 I ran two edible Landscape walks a month (mostly). The price I charged was £5 a person.  Many said this was very reasonable, indeed positively cheap. – but I decided on this price because whilst I was hoping to get a reasonable hourly return for the work and experience I put into these events I also did not want them to the entirely the preserve of the financially solvent .

Even so, I still find the process of charging people to experience nature problematic. The deeply critical might even go as far as saying these events represent the commodification of the commons.

Then again living in a capitalist society one needs to raise capital in order to survive within it. And as Edible Landscape has neither private nor public funding and I do not have a permanent job in the city, or elsewhere, some capital needs to be raised in my many and varied ‘portfolio’ career.

The tried and tested model of course is to sell ones labour. And the great thing about money and the exchange contract is it’s simplicity – we all understand the game. I tell you the price, you pay the money, or not  (that’s the wonderful power of consumer choice, sir/madam).

But Edible Landscape has always been about more than a guided walk led by a professional. So I decided to take all the problematics of labour, capital, nature and exchange and share them with you, the customer/ participant/ collaborator.

So for the new season of Edible Landscape walks I am trying an experiment in exchange where I do not set a price for my labour. Instead I will be inviting participants to pay as much or as little as they like – what they can afford, or what they think its worth.

It may be a financially risky strategy for me, but I’m hoping that mutually beneficial arrangements will be negotiated. Along the way, as well as sampling the gratuitous bounty of the Commons, we might also explore the some of the murky back woods of labour, exchange and natural capital.

Mushroom log workshop pics

Because of popular demand I ran the shiitake mushroom log workshop twice with a total of fourteen mycophile attendees. They all got to take home an inoculated oak log which, with patience (may take 18 months to the first fruiting) and care they may be producing fresh shiitake for up to six years.

New Mushroom Log Workshop

My Shiitake growing on oak log

My Shiitake growing on oak log

Having fortuitously secured some newly cut oak from a not very secret location I’m now in the position to run some mushroom log inoculation workshops

In this practical workshop  location you will learn how to grow exotic mushrooms on hardwood logs. You will learn about how to select and prepare logs and how to inoculate them with Shiitake mushroom spawn. You will also learn how to care for your inoculated logs and how to encourage and maintain fruiting logs for many years.

For the price of the workshop you will also get to take home your own freshly inoculated oak log (similar sized commercially available mushroom logs cost £15-£25). Extra mushroom spawn will also be available  for those who would like inoculate their own logs at home, (check that your own logs are suitable first). Extra fresh oak logs may also be available depending on bookings.

The workshop will be led by me, Dominic Thomas. Ive been collecting wild mushroom for over twenty years and growing exotic mushrooms for nearly ten.

The first workshop is on Sunday 10th November at 10.30am

Workshop price including one mushroom log to take home £10
Accompanied children free

Limited places so booking essential. Book on line here

October Walk

After an unscheduled and over extended summer break Edible Landscape finally got out with a fungi focused walk last Sunday. Having bemoaned the general lack of fruits a fungal flush creped up on me and forced a last minute call for participants.

In Parish and Old hill woods we found the best avoided Magpie Ink cap, Clouded Agaric, and honey fungus, as well as a bunch of unidentified numbers. The Amethyst Deceiver, despite it’s slightly ominous sounding name is good to eat if you can find enough of the often small deep purple mushrooms. I include a photo of the poisonous Sulphur tuft because of it’s other worldly “pixy city” appearance.

Later on I took the group to the site of Field blewits I’d discovered last year. They had come up mid to late November last year which had lead me to only checking out the site this weekend (Oct 20th) but to my dismay the blewits were already mostly past there best. But despite many of them gone over and suffering the obvious increase in slug population, that most gardeners are already all to aware of, the group managed to pick enough for a lunch of mushrooms on toast.

Here is a selection of the photo’s taken by Rupert on the walk showing some of the more interesting fungal finds.

September fruits

What happened to the summer? The weird wet weather has played havoc with certain fruit and nut crops this year. In fact if any of us were actually dependent on the wild or home grown harvest we would most likely be in a famine situation by now.

There has been a major failure of the apple crop round here. With the exception a few varieties of either early or late flowering types all the feral and garden apple, pear and crab apple trees I know of have no crop at all. There are also no hazel nuts, no acorns and no beech nuts to be had. And until a few days ago I had not seen any soles at all either.

Despite this the hawthorn berries and rose hips seem to be doing OK. There are few things you can do with Haw berries including adding to mixed jams and jellies. I am experimenting with a haw brandy recipe (see picture) – basically like sloe gin but, you guessed it, with haws and brandy. But for me one of the best uses is to make Haw ketchup. The recipe below is base on one from the River Cottage preserves book which I have adapted to perk it up a bit.

I tend to double these quantities produce 4 or 5 jars of ketchup

500g haws
300ml white wine or cider vinegar
170g sugar
half teaspoon salt
Medium red onion
2 or more cloves garlic
dried or fresh red chilli to taste
Ground black pepper

Method: strip haws from their stalks. Simmer in vinegar and 300ml of water until soft, split, and turned a dark reddish brown. Rub through a sieve to remove stones and skins (hard work this bit).

In the meantime fry the sliced onion (and chilli if using) in oil until deep golden brown and beginning to caramelize. Add the minced garlic and cook for a few minutes more and the mash, mince or purée the result.

Return the sieved haw pulp to a clean pan. Add the sugar and heat gently until dissolved. Add onion mixture, bring to the boil and cook for a further 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and pour into sterilised jars and seal. Will last twelve months, although more likely will be gone before then!.

As I said the rose hips are also looking good this year (interestingly the hips and the haws like apples are all members of the rose family, but the apples failed). Rose hip syrup is an old favourite which kept many young people in good health and pocket money during the second world war and into the 50s. School children were paid 3 pence a pound for vitamin C rich wild rose hips when the war and rationing interrupted the imports of citrus fruit.

Another experiment I want to try is rose hip vodka. I don’t have any recipes for this yet but think it has to be worth a try. And just think of the health benefits!

EL#6 July – Feral Fruits

On July’s Edible Landscape outing we spotted various ‘feral’ fruits – feral as in once domesticated but now gone wild. Gooseberries and red currents are considered native wild woodland species and you do find the odd specimen in the woods around Chalford. But then, more often than not these are likely to be escaped cultivated varieties. these can be seedlings spread by thieving birds but also when you find such examples a closer inspection of the apparently wild location will often reveal the remains of a dwelling, the outline of stone wall in the undergrowth, indicating that the woodland thicket was maybe once a garden. Wild strawberries, a plant of the woodland edge, can often have a similar pedigree. But with cross fertilisation and the continual interaction between human and ‘natural’ systems there comes a point when the concept of wild and domesticated begins to loose any meaning.

This time of year another fine edible woodland edge plant is the native and wild nettle leaved campion. Like all campion species has edible flowers and leaves. This year saw a particularly fine crop along the edge of Oldhills wood.

Another wayside plant that has an equally questionable ancestry as the above fruits is the (wild) hop. Those who know more than I say that although the Wild hop was once a common native  of southern England because it was so widely cultivated in the past any you find growing in the hedgerows these days are likely to be descended from the domesticated variety. As well as the flowers being used for brewing beer the young shoots of hops can be eaten, lightly steamed like a poor mans asparagus. They can be actually quite good, with a sweet and subtle hoppy flavour but I must say I’ve never felt so poor as to spend the time finding enough of the rather thin shoots to make a starter for one even.

Just along the road from the hops on the same sunny woodland edge that the strawberries were growing we found Wood Sage. Although it’s leaves do resemble those of the kitchen herb sage it unfortunately is no substitute for it. But interestingly the aroma you will detect if you crush the leaves between your fingers is that of hops! And it was indeed used in the past as a flavouring for beer.

Edible Open Gardens

As part of Transition Stroud’s Edible Open Gardens events I am opening my own garden for public inspection on Saturday 7th July. I’ll be around all day (11am – 5pm) to talk about the principles and processes I’ve been attempting to put in place despite the appalling weather we have been having this spring (and summer!).

Mine is a relativity small and very steep south facing garden mostly divided into single bed terraces. Growing perennial fruit, vegetables, herbs and edible flowers. Although we have lived in the house for the past 13 years the garden has only been seriously developed for edibles over the last two or three years. When we moved here the ‘garden’ was a series rubble-filled bramble and scrub choked banks. Over the years we have been reclaiming the land and slowly terracing it, mostly with reclaimed dry stone walling or what ever came to hand (or out of the ground). The garden is now being developed using organic and permaculture principles. It includes a variety of unusual perennial fruit and vegetables along with more traditional varieties. One bed is dedicated to edible flowers. There are relatively new fruit and nut tree plantings and although not strictly speaking a forest garden some of the plants and planting decisions have also been informed by forest gardening principles. I am also cultivating shitake and oyster mushrooms on site and have been experimenting with companion mycology (cultivating or encouraging beneficial fungi to develop healthy soils and plants). An interest in foraging and wild foods has led to experimenting with planting wild and native edible species and developing edible water and wetland plants in and around a small pond.

More information on Stroud’s Edible Open Gardens events here.

Elderflower Fritters with Wild Strawberries

This is the time of year when two wonderful flavours tend to coincide – Elder flowers and wild strawberries. Like many wild and foraged seasonal delicacies it’s a short window of opportunity. In fact some years they do not coincide at all but this year the elder flower is in bloom somewhat later than usual and the strawberries are ripening at exactly the same time.

So I just had to put them together in a dish which is stupidly simple and the kids love -Elderflower fritters with ice cream and wild strawberries.

For the elderflower fritters simply pick as many flower-heads as you need. 2- 4 per person is usually adequate, although it’s hard to stop eating them if there are more available. The flowers should be as full and freshly opened as possible with no petal fall or browning to be seen. Include as long a stalk as you can when cutting them and check for insects if you don’t want the added protein.

I make a batter with one egg beaten into 3 or 4 table spoons of self raising flour and enough milk to make a thinish batter. But you can use any batter recipe you like. A proper tempura batter makes a beautiful delicate fritter but is a bit of a faf. Using a thicker batter and you can create an elderflower flavoured doughnut type affair if that is you desire.

To cook simply dip the flower heads in batter, let the excess drain off and deep fry in hot oil until golden brown. Drain on paper for a minute or two and the dredge in caster sugar to taste. A dollop of vanilla ice cream and a sprinkle of wild strawberries and there you have it.

Now I must admit that the strawberries in my dish pictured here were in fact the alpine strawberries growing in my garden (as were the elder flowers actually) but there is no shame in that. Of course purists out there would also have made the ice cream from their own eggs (and cream?) and flavoured it with dried white clover flowers which are said to have a vanilla-like flavour. But you can also buy some fine locally-made ice creams in a number of commercial outlets as well, if you have to.

Bonn apatite.

Beech Leaf Noyau

In the spring as the beech leaves are emerging is the time to prepare Beech leaf Noyau. This intriguing liqueur is traditionally made with gin and young beech leave and is a springtime alternative to Sloe gin. It’s origins are obscure. I first came across it in Richard Mabey’s classic 1970s book Food for Free. He reckons it “originated in the Chilterns where large plantations of beech were put down in the eighteenth and nineteenth century to service the chair-making trade.”

Although the traditional method uses gin I made mine with white rum or you could try vodka. My thinking was that as gin is already strongly flavoured with juniper, a purer spirit would allow the flavour of the beech come through. My prototype rum version, certainly during early tastings, has a beautifully subtle flavour.

You need to pick the beech leaves when they are really new – just unfurling, pale lime green and with a soft silky texture. Older leaves quickly turn darker green and waxy and will not impart the colour and flavour of fresh pale green leaves. Incidental these young beech leaves can also be used as a salad plant. The pale green leaves have a mild flavour with a hint of lemon to them and are a fine addition to a mixed wild spring salad.

Anyway, back to the Noyau – Here’s the basic method:

Pack a 1 litre jar or crock with a lid 3/4 full of young leaves and then fill up with Spirit – gin, rum or vodka. I found that most of a 70 ml bottle made up the litre.
Leave to steep for a couple of weeks and then strain off the spirit. For 70 ml of spirit add approx 500 g of sugar dissolved in 35 ml of boiling water. (RM suggests adding a dash of brandy – I didn’t.) Bottle when cool and leave to mellow for a month or more before drinking.

Obviously, waiting until the dark days of winter when the warming bright green nectar can recall spring days might be the best time to crack the bottles.